Wandering Vines

Wandering VinesIn February, I was quite busy with several demanding projects.  Some of them kept me occupied at the computer, others at the sewing machine,  preparing for our guild’s imminent quilt show.  What I needed was some hand stitching to soothe my rattled nerves.

I had these vines already cut from an assortment of fabrics, having planned to use them as a border on another quilt.  Once they were vetoed for that project, I saved them thinking I would just use them alone on a solid background.  I do love needleturn appliqué and find the process restful to my brain.

Wandering Vines backI found three colors I liked, chose a solid fabric for the background, and stitched them over a few evenings in front of the television.  Recently, I layered the top with Dream Wool batting and a piece of hand-dyed fabric from Wendy Richardson as the back.  I outlined the appliqué and stitched several rows of echo quilting using a variegated thread.  The various edge designs; pebbles, straight lines, and continuous curves were stitched using a neutral color thread of the same weight.

All quilting was hand guided, free motion stitching on my domestic machine.

four little pitchersThis whole project was based on revisiting something I had liked from an earlier quilt.  Four Little Pitchers was my entry in our guild’s annual challenge in 2009.  The challenge was to make a four-block quilt.  I drew the shapes of the pitchers based on some pieces from my pottery collection, used needleturn appliqué to stitch them to the black background, and separated the four blocks with a tiny (1/4”), subtle sashing of black with silver dots.  Then I appliquéd the vine using the pattern from Emily Senuta’s basket book, and continued the design with the quilting motif.  In that case, I continued the vine in green, then echoed all with a black thread.

four pitchers detailThe sashing turned out to be so tiny and so subtle that it became invisible, but I always liked the result of the vine motif and wanted to work with that design again.  Especially after I began using wool batting, I wanted to use it to give extra dimension to the leaves in the quilted vines.  The vine in the latest project is twice the size of the original pattern.

I still have more of the larger vines cut, so  I would like to explore even more possibilities with this simple, elegant shape.

Details of quilts:  Four Little Pitchers measures 38” x 43”.  Fabrics for pitchers is all hand-dyed Cherrywood fabric, vines are Fossill Fern fabrics.  Batting is Dream Cotton request.  All threads are DMC Broder machine embroidery thread; 50 weight / 2 ply cotton.

Wandering Vines measures 21” x 28”.  Appliqué fabrics are all commercial quilting cottons, the background fabric is hand-dyed Cherrywood cotton. Threads are DMC Broder embroidery thread; 50 weight / 2 ply cotton.

Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I recently described this work as “my first major quilt.”  It was completed in 2007, so it doesn’t belong in the catalog of my latest work, but the elements I included in it still appear in many more recent designs.

The quilt was made over a period of six years.  I completed other quilts during that time, but this was an ongoing project.  One of the first piecing techniques that intrigued me was English paper piecing.  I basted the 1” hexagons on freezer paper and had a portable project.  Since I was still working full time, I stitched while riding in the car and on visits with my mother in her assisted living facility, on the porch with her at her nursing home, and in hospital waiting rooms when my sister was ill.

As I was learning more about the world of quilting, I began to think of ways to combine these hexagons with other quilting techniques.  Once I learned needleturn appliqué, I wanted to add some curves to my pieced elements.  I assembled ten of the Grandmother’s Flower Garden units, appliquéd them to a background, and planned to add a vine with leaves in the border.

detail from Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
detail from Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I actually made another small quilt to explore the technique of the two-colored border with the vine separating them.  That worked, so I interpreted it large scale.

I wanted a bit more interest in the center of the quilt (well, not really the center…I was already embracing the idea of asymmetrical balance), so I made a bouquet of flowers using some elements of flowers from Barb Adams and Alma Allen’s Quilting in the Garden (a quilt I completed sometime in this process).

detail from Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
detail from Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I made my first bow with trapunto here.  I loved the bow.  I still like bows.  Especially plaid bows.  They reveal the folds created when a ribbon is rumpled to tie a knot.

Certainly not the least challenging was the quilting.  Then a beginner, I quilted the hexagons with a continuous curve motif, echoed around the appliqué, used my version of one of Diane Gaudynski’s filler designs in the inner border, and stitched a double grid in the outer border.  The only element of the quilting that was marked was half of the straight lines (they are 1” apart) and then quilted 1/4” away from that using the edge of the free motion foot.  Then, as now, the straight line quilting is the most challenging motif in free motion quilting, but I do still love the effect.

When it was time to give this quilt a title, I enlisted my husband’s input.  He came up with Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden to honor the traditional blocks of hexagons and give tribute to my quilting grandmother, Ollie Jane Hasty.

This quilt has had quite a career appearing in quilt shows and going to lectures with me.  She has earned some ribbons and accolades, but I haven’t retired her.  She hangs in the stairwell of our home, as close to the center of our lives as she can be.

The quilt used all cotton fabrics, some reproduction feed sacks.  Batting is Dream Cotton request.  Quilting thread is DMC machine embroidery cotton 50 weight / 2ply.  Finished dimensions are 58” x 68”.

Orphan Baskets and Bunnies

framed pearMany quilts are made in small units, or blocks, which are then assembled into a larger quilt top.  Most quiltmakers I know have an abundance of “orphan blocks”.  These can result when a project is abandoned, when extra blocks were made to test color combinations or size, or when the stitcher simply changed her mind about where the design was going.

I sometimes intentionally create orphan blocks.  I find hand stitching to be therapeutic and if I’m not in the midst of a big project, I love to explore single block designs.  Whether piecing or appliqué, I love playing and planning.  Many times, a big idea grows from a small block.

After I completed the appliqué for Indigo Pearadise, I continued to play with this motif in the smaller size.  A single pear fit comfortably in a 5” x 7” frame and makes a sweet little gift.

Early in my appliqué experience, I found that I could successfully stitch the running rabbit pictured in the design below.  To practice the appliqué stitch, to have handwork to do while visiting with my mother, and to explore the soft colors of Spring, I stitched many running rabbits.  Somewhere along the way, I began hearing the phrase “Baskets and Bunnies” in my mind and a theme emerged.  I found patterns for other bunnies, drew a simple basket with a rickrack handle, and kept sewing.

baskets & bunniesSome of these baskets and bunnies still reside in a basket awaiting their opportunity to shine.  The photo you see here is a quilt top that came about when my minigroup needed a quick project for a donation effort a few years ago.  The timing was Spring, my stitching sisters remembered my collection, and we got busy.  The completed top was quilted by a local longarm expert and we had a sweet little quilt in record time!

That little block with the rickrack handle has reappeared in reds and framed for Christmas gifts, too.  I don’t read many books twice, I don’t watch a lot of reruns on tv, but I do my share of repeating blocks I love.

Wool felt – Felted wool – what?

beauty & beesIn my quilts, anything goes.  I love quilting cottons, silk, linen, denim, and wool.  All together or separately, depending on the project.

I’ve worked with felted wool in many ways.  Wool as the background with cotton appliquéd on top.  Wool as the fabric to be appliquéd on a cotton, or linen, or wool background.  Because the wool doesn’t ravel, you don’t have to turn under the edges, and appliqué is fast.  Because the wool is plush, stitches can hide easily, so if your stitches aren’t perfect, and you use a matching thread, no one notices.  If you want your stitches to show, a contrasting or heavier thread or a blanket stitch will do the trick to add another element to your project.

Wool stitched on wool is like sewing through butter.  Both layers are soft and easy to needle.  Stitching goes quickly.  The result is bulky, though.  That’s something to consider if you are making a large quilt.

Wool stitched on cotton is fun.  You get a firm background which layers easily with batting and backing to get a traditional kind of quilt with dimensional wool applique.

Linen, or a 50/50 blend of linen and cotton, is widely available now in quilt shops.  It has a rougher texture that supports the weight of the wool beautifully.  And, I was surprised to see that quilting stitches show up nicely on the linen.

My preference for wool appliqué is to use felted wool, not wool felt.  There is a difference.  Felted wool is woven wool which has been washed and shrunk to tighten the weave.  The holes between the threads are still there. Wool felt has a flatter appearance and is harder to needle. Wool felt is made from fibers tightly pressed together and has no holes.  It’s a personal preference.  Some people like the wool felt.  I’m all about the process, and I like the feel of felted wool.

Note:  wool felt is not woven, it’s smushed.  It may have glue in it.  It lies flatter and ravels less, they say.  But it has a hard hand and a flat appearance to me.  My blog, my opinion.  Only my opinion.  Play with it and draw your own conclusions.

You can buy some absolutely delicious hand dyed felted wool now.  It’s sold in quilt shops, at shows, and online.  But, there is adventure in felting your own wool from recycled garments.  I recently bought a beautiful red cashmere coat for $10.  The store owner was surprised I didn’t need to try it on for size.  I brought it home, disassembled it, then washed it in hot water and threw it in the dryer.  It is the most luscious wool in my stash.  The linings, interlinings, and interfacings are interesting, too.

To felt your own wool, look for a tag that says 100% wool (blends can work, but the higher the wool content, the nicer the finished product).  I don’t bring it in the house until I’ve prepared it for washing.  I didn’t intentionally buy someone else’s bug problem.  I remove buttons, zippers, linings and interfacings.  I also cut away shoulder and sleeve seams before washing.  It’s hard to cut through all the layers after it’s felted.  I might leave some seams in a skirt or the back of a jacket, though, to have a bigger piece of wool.

Put it in the washing machine with detergent and your hottest water for the longest cyle.  Then put it in the dryer, again on hot.  Do check the lint trap frequently as you may have a lot of fibers in there.

Interesting things can happen if you wash red wool with white.  I sometimes am careful about color separation, but usually not.  I like surprises.

Details of photo:  Beauty and the Bees, 31″ x 24″, based on pattern by Maggie Bonanomi.  Felted wool from recycled clothing along with a few purchased hand-dyed wool pieces.  Tendrils and berries are free-motion couched by machine.  Quilting is all free-motion machine stitching.

Daddy was a Beekeeper

bee skep in frameMy Daddy was a hard-working man who loved sports, good conversation, good people, and a simple life.  He did not have a lot of hobbies; didn’t play golf, didn’t go fishing.  I heard stories of his past exploits (before I came along) going hunting, but whether that was for food or the social drinking that came with it, I don’t know.

He did have a hobby that I enjoyed as a participant or a spectator; beekeeping.  During a phase of not-going-to-church during my childhood, Sunday mornings were the time he would choose to “check on the bees.”  I was allowed to go along sometimes with Mama cautioning him to make me wait in the truck.  He didn’t.  Daddy wasn’t afraid of the bees and neither was I.  We both knew that Mama was afraid, however, and that my visits to the hives would be our secret.

Daddy’s hives were kept in an old family cemetery on the farmland of a friend and neighbor, Uncle Hal.  He wasn’t my uncle and his name wasn’t Hal, but if you are from the South, you understand.

We would bump along a rutted road through the pasture to the wooded cemetery.  Daddy would lift the top off a hive or two, lift up a tray to check the status of the honey, and I could hear and see a quivering.  I suppose he was gentle about it.  The bees seemed to be undisturbed and went on about their business.  Daddy would gauge the time to return to collect honey and we would continue on with our day.

If the scuppernongs were ripe, Daddy would have a ladder in the back of the truck, and we would climb up and get some for Mama to make some jelly.  Other times, he would let me respectfully explore the overgrown grave plots. The graves had once been well tended, some groups surrounded with wrought iron fencing.  But now moss-covered headstones, cracked slabs, and invading roots were signs that the bees were mostly undisturbed.

On days when Daddy went to “rob the bees,” I usually stayed home or waited in the truck.  I don’t think he minded my participation, but just knew Mama would not be happy if I did get stung.  She was very afraid of the bees and thought anyone who wasn’t was crazy.  Daddy said the bees could smell her fear.

I remember the preparation included rags, kerosene, a smoker.  I guess he wore gloves and a mask, but I really don’t remember.  I remember his not being afraid and thinking he possessed a kind of magic that the bees respected.  I do remember the big blue enameled canning pot in which he brought home the honey.  It would stay in that pot until Mama sterilized jars and poured it up.  I loved to walk past , sneak open the lid, and get a pinch of honeycomb with honey oozing and chew on the comb for a while.

I have honey on hand at all time and enjoy it in my coffee every morning.  My way of starting the day with Daddy, I guess.

Beehives enter my textile work frequently.  The image above is of all needleturn appliqué on cotton, with free-motion machine quilting.  I designed it to fit in the 8” x 10” frame.  The sampler background fabric is from a line by Blackbird designs.  I’ve used their sampler fabric a lot.  It always adds an element of historic needlework to the piece.  The bees are little charms I picked up somewhere.

Simple yet Effective

 

Indigo Pearadise
Indigo Pearadise

I was just looking at some of my favorite quilts on Pinterest and once again noting how appealing some of the simplest designs are.  A little charm pack sewn together with wide sashing and quilted.  Divine.

But, I’m afraid I don’t often make those quilts.  I love designing and tend to add my “what if” philosophy to the process – adding and complicating things.  I like doing that.

Indigo Pearadise is one of those quick, relatively unplanned projects that resulted in a pleasing outcome.  Minimal preparation, some very pleasant zen time with my needle in hand, some dancing with my sewing machine, and I have a little wall quilt.

Last spring, I had been stitching pears in preparation for an upcoming class I was planning to teach at my favorite local quilt shop.  I had drawn this pear as a design to use for the introductory class. With gentle curves and a few pieces, I could focus on the beginning steps in needleturn appliqué, making a template, marking the background, learning the stitch.

In doing my homework for the class, I made numerous samples varying fabrics and backgrounds.  Pears are like chocolate (pears are good with chocolate, too); they can become addictive.

We were anticipating an upcoming trip, and is usually the case, I spend more time thinking about the sewing project I’m taking than the clothes I will wear.  I wanted to continue my pear exploration with minimal preparation.  I had a charm pack from Minick and Simpson’s Indigo Crossing fabric line from Moda and knew I would love whatever project I made.  Anything blue is good.  Anything these two sisters design is good.

So I reduced the size of the original pear pattern I had made for the class (from 6″ x 9″ to about 3″ x 5″), made a plastic template, and marked a linen background with guidelines for even placement of the pears.

I stitched all the pears in the evenings in our B & B in Blue Ridge and later at Amicalola State Park in Ga.  No, the fact that one of our destinations was Blue Ridge did not enter into my fabric choices.  It’s serendipity.

Now when I see this project, I see blue pears.  But I also see rainy days in Blue Ridge, delightful walks about the town, nice meals with my husband, and fun with family at Amicalola.

The quilting is done with 60 weight silk thread using a continuous curve design.  I mark a grid, in this case 1/2”, with a removable marker to guide the free motion quilting.  Dream Wool batting.  This project finished at 16″ x 21″.

Geraniums

Geranium quitlI planted some geraniums today.  That’s a sign that I think it’s springtime!

I love geraniums.  Especially red geraniums.  They are so perky and straightforward, “I AM A BIG SHOWY FLOWER.  LOOK AT ME!”.

Even my brown thumbs can keep them producing blooms through the summer.

Maybe because Aunt Nellie always had them, I find their presence comforting in the yard.  I put them in terra cotta pots because she said “their roots like to breathe.”

So I found myself thinking of this little quit in the photo.  I made it for our guild’s challenge in 2011.  The challenge that year was to make a “two-block quilt”.  Further details in the rules said you must include two different pieced blocks.

Since I like to try to find an unexpected way to follow the rules, I pieced several sawtooth star blocks; not all the same size, from red and white fabrics in the top section of this quilt.  For the lower section, I pieced square-in-a-square blocks using some of my precious indigo collection.  These fabrics were printed in Africa using copper plates that are several hundred years old.  I bought them from a vendor in Paducah one year and treasure them in a special basket.  But I thought a geranium themed quilt was worthy of putting these treasures under the knife.

Atop the pieced background, I appliquéd the flower pot, stems, leaves, and geraniums using felted wool.  There is minimal quilting on this piece, a simple vine and leaf design that is one of my favorite hand-guided, free-motion quilting motifs.  It finished at 14” x 20”.

I confess that this was likely done at the last minute.  No label is attached as yet and the imaginative title of “Geraniums” is another clue that the deadline was nigh.  The geranium in the pot was inspired by one of Maggie Bonanomi’s designs,  I added a big satin bow to give dimension.

The geraniums in the watering can are a colored pencil Version 3drawing I made last week from a photo taken in our backyard.  I love old, well-worn watering cans almost as much as I love geraniums.  Anything in blue is beautiful  So, the three working together make my soul sing.

Deadlines are Good

I’m easily distracted.  I love to start projects, but sometimes other obligations (or newer projects) call, and this gets put aside for that.  Sometimes the “this” languishes.

buttonwood farm pruningButtonwood Farm is a wool appliqué project (adapted from Maggie Bonanomi’s book by the same name) which I was anxious to have hanging in my dining room.  To help ensure it was finished in a timely manner, I entered it into our local quilt show.

I finished the applique (some cotton and some felted wool on linen) weeks ago, knowing it “wouldn’t take much time” to quilt a project 43” square. As the show approached, I checked other things off the to-do list:  help with layout of the show floor, format and type booklet for the show, add sleeves to several other projects entered in the show.  Buttonwood Farm’s quilting kept getting postponed.

On Saturday, March 12, before the show was to be hung on Thursday, March 17, I pinbasted the quilt top to the batting and backing.  A few hours home alone that day meant I got the interior section of the quilt outlined and some filler designs done immediately.  In the next few days, sitting down to quilt gave me focus for a few hours, distracting me from the anxiety of the upcoming show.  Stitching soothes me.

On Wednesday, March 16, I added a binding, sleeve, and label.  Whew!  But after a ribbon was attached, I saw stray threads hanging.  One of our vendors loaned me some scissors to do a little pruning.

Oh, and I was “busted” during the awards ceremony.  The project was so fresh that I had forgotten its name and thought they meant the ribbon was going to a friend’s project with a similar title.  But now the quilt is finished and can hang in my dining room.

Details of quilt:  Cotton and felted wool appliqué on linen.  Quilted with Aurafil 50 wt cotton thread.  Dream wool batting.  The name “Buttonwood Farm” is Maggie’s.  I stuck with it when I investigated and found that buttonwood and sycamore were both common names for Platens occidentals.  My hometown of Sycamore was founded in 1891, so I changed the date on my rendition.